A Few Thanks, as We Try to Ride Out the Storm

Adrian Campbell Montgomery and daughter Aurora. The two were shown crossing the border to Canada to seek medical treatment in the 2007 Michael Moore documentary SiCKO.

When the House decided before Thanksgiving not to extend unemployment benefits, anxiety set upon my family. My husband will reach his 99 weeks at the end of December, with no job prospects in sight. We’ll lose 40 percent of our income if the new batch of Republicans doesn’t reauthorize benefits for the long-term unemployed like him.

When it rains, it storms. People are losing their homes, jobs, health insurance, and their children, who are off fighting in two wars. Now that the Tea Party is in the House, we might see people start to lose their Social Security and Medicare, too. This is brewing up to be the perfect disaster—and my family and I are trying to survive in this storm.

My husband spent 15 years as a 12-volt technician, installing aftermarket car stereos, alarms, and car starters. In January 2009, his employer said, “Sorry, nobody is buying these, we no longer can afford to keep you.” Now his biweekly calls to the unemployment office are coming to an end, and he doesn’t know what to do. He’s one of 2 million long-term unemployed who could see their lifeline cut if benefits aren’t extended by New Year’s.

He could follow my mom’s lead and take a job with Starbucks. She didn’t land there because of unemployment. She had a job, working for 30 years at GM. She retired, but since cuts to the union’s medical benefits hurt her and my father deeply, she re-entered the work force full-time.

My father is another American who is concerned with what is going on in Washington. He fears cuts to Social Security and Medicare will only further burden them. They lost their house to foreclosure in 2008. My husband’s parents lost their house last year. My father in-law worries about cuts to his pension, Medicare, and Social Security on a daily basis.

Some relief has come to the Campbell and Montgomery households. I am proudly working here at Labor Notes in Detroit. I am very thankful this holiday season. My younger sister is, too. She is no longer working an $8-an-hour stocking job for Target. She now is happily working an $11-an-hour job as a receptionist. Not bad in these days for someone who has a bachelor’s degree in business management.

She is no stranger to student loans. I too have $60,000 in student loan debt, which it seems I’ll never be able to pay off. My sister has about $35,000. We wonder, why did we go to school, get that higher education that we are told we have to get to better ourselves; only to drown in debt that you can’t wipe away if you file bankruptcy?

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My sister and I are the face of the new younger generation of debt. We don’t have credit card debt; we have medical and student loan debt. I have well over $100,000 in medical debt from being denied lifesaving cancer treatment by an insurance company. My sister was uninsured, just weeks away from her employer-based insurance kicking in, when she had an accident. She slipped and fell on some ice, busted her ankle, and ended up $30,000 more in debt.

My brother is 21 years old. Post-high school, he didn’t want to rack up the student loan debt like his two older sisters. He worked doing stock at a grocery store, not able to get more than 12 hours a week, and unable to find work elsewhere, he signed up with the United States Army. Most of the men in my family have served, and he felt, even though we are in two senseless wars, he would do his part.

He has done a tour in Iraq. After coming back he was knifed on his base in Louisiana—the other soldier was looking for a way out of going to Afghanistan. The soldier felt he would rather spend the rest of his life in a military prison than head off to a war zone. My brother deployed to Afghanistan in October, on our mother’s birthday. Happy birthday, mom!

This Thanksgiving, the Campbells and Montgomerys are going through what the rest of the country is going through: unemployment woes, medical/health care concerns, student loan anxieties, foreclosure depression, and wondering when the wars are going to end and all of our soldiers will be back home.

I wish the Tea-Publicans would understand that these issues are all connected, instead of just screaming that big government is overspending. Maybe they could stop catering to corporate interests long enough to see that things like unemployment benefits and Medicare are the lifelines for America’s wellbeing.


Adrian Campbell Montgomery is Labor Notes’ business manager. She appeared in the 2007 Michael Moore movie SiCKO as a cancer survivor trying to deal with the high cost of health care in the United States—and became an agitator for Medicare for All.

Comments

LegacyCost | 11/25/10

The working folks of this nation have always made America better. Adrian.... You're a fine example of that
spirit. Was great being with you at USSF last summer.

Borninelsass (not verified) | 11/24/10

I agree with you adrian, peoples need help (more than mercy), and I think you're one of the most able to bring change in the good way!

Continue the fight !

viclegg (not verified) | 11/24/10

Thank you for your honest article. I can assure you: you are not alone. So many people are working hard and praying for solutions for the problems that have manifested themselves in the last several years. I agree with most people that the issues did not start because of our current political leaders, and did not get out of control because of the previous ones. Every decision maker has had a role in design, implementation and management of our current condition. I am usually a conservative, and I don't believe in a 'print and spend' government. I do believe in unions and social safety nets.

Here are some ideas and questions I have:

1. Why is there still a cap on social security taxes? The current cap is $106,800. That means if a person makes a million dollars, she does not pay social security taxes for almost 11 out of 12 months. Zero. Smaller numbers: Obama's favorite number $250,000 of income is not FICA taxed after sometime in May.
That is not fair to those who paid all year long, taxed on all of their income for all of their lives. Obama and a democratic congress has had time to fix this, and has chosen to instead raise the national debt and/or expenses to every corportation and individual in the country. Not fair, needs fixed.

2. Why do union executives sit on the board of directors of corporations (ie: UAW on GM)? I see Rome burning while the fiddler plays. Those executives are the decision makers that close plants, lay off union members and ship jobs overseas. Shame on those spineless Union people who do not have the resolve to force corporations to provide security to employees through better pensions and health insurance. Instead they participate in downsizing and profiteering while they are upstairs in the penthouse with the company leaders. Not fair, needs fixed.

3. Consider the City of Detroit. They haven't elected a Republican mayor since the early 1960's. It is insanity to keep doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results! Companies keep moving out of the city and what ever cream floats to the top Mike Ilitch buys because no one else wants to. Schools there are dangerous places, and student scores are some of the lowest. Property values, 2 years ago, were higher in bombed out Bagdahd. Yet those voters keep voting in the same, yes, democrats because their social agenda provides just enough for individuals to squeek by. That is at the expense of those somewhere else who pay taxes. Not fair, needs fixed.

I am sure others could list gripes and identify flaws in the core values and structures that need reshaping. It is said, "If it's not broke, don't fix it." I say President Obama is broken and he needs to get fixed, just like previous administrations for decades have been broken. The government has made it very difficult for capitalists to create wealth, which creates jobs and security. I hope your husband gets his extention, but that does not solve the problem. The extention will run out again in a few months. He needs a job! But there are no new jobs here because most don't want to invest in uncertainty.

lycophidion (not verified) | 11/24/10

You say you "wish the Tea-Publicans would understand..." That should read "wish the Tea-Publicans and the Obamacrats." Obama with his neoliberal austerity program and wars is just as responsible as -- or even more than -- his predecessor, and he hasn't been left behind in terms of rhetoric regarding big government.